Renovated weight room opens at Harding HS with help from Panthers receiver

CHARLOTTE — Students at Harding University High School in Charlotte wasted no time jumping in to enjoy their newly renovated weight room Wednesday. Its opening celebration came after months of construction.

“The weight room is like the heartbeat of the school,” said Harding senior Usir Jackson. “That’s like the place to go after-school to lift, just to have a conversation with Coach (Terence Cunningham) or whoever is in there. That’s the place to go.”

It’s easy to appreciate the joy among students and staff these days, when you hear the story of their journey to get here.

“When I had my kids working out, the flooring was coming up,” said Harding’s strength training instructor Terence Cunningham. “If I’m having kids doing particular exercises, it’s kind of a hazard.”

Cunningham told Channel 9′s DaShawn Brown about a chance meeting with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Executive Director of Athletics.

“I came through in the summertime and Erica Turner was here for something and she popped through (the weight room),” he said. “I just let her know my thoughts about the flooring and how I felt like it might not have been safe for the kids.”

“The next thing I know, I get a phone call and an email saying we’ve got somebody that wants to help.”

Initially, Harding staff requested help to repair its weight room floor. After Turner connected them with the Thielen Foundation, the non-profit not only repaired the floor, but added new mirrors, turf, and sleds.

Additionally, The Thielen Foundation provided five $1,000 scholarships for Harding students this year, and moving forward.

“The biggest part of it is, after I submitted those names, the check was in the mail the next day,” said Harding Athletics Director Oscar Walker.

“If you’re a star athlete, you have choices to play at this school or play at this school, I may choose a school that has the facilities or the resources over a school that doesn’t, and that’s real,” Principal Glenn Starnes II added.

Carolina Panthers receiver Adam Thielen and wife Caitlin co-founded The Thielen Foundation.

“It’s not just about the athletics,” Adam Thielen said. “Yeah, is it great that they become a better athlete, better at their sport, and they have the space to do that. But really, it’s more about now they feel better about themselves, they have self-confidence.”

The difference has been immediate among some of Harding’s student body.

“In our school, we need to see because a lot of people come here and say ‘yeah we’re going to help you guys, we’re going to change it,’ but they never actually do it. They just talk,” said senior Empress Voliton.

“I feel like a lot of people don’t really care about Harding, they just overshadow them,” Senior Usir Jackson added. “I feel like if students see that, they’re going to get inspired that we are being seen.”

(WATCH BELOW: Panthers’ Thomas Davis donates $15K for Harding HS state champ rings)